Scientists have discovered a way to alter the immune system and in the process, given new hope to the thousands of individuals who suffer from multiple sclerosis and arthritis.
A faulty immune system that attacks the body is responsible for the condition. The condition can be effectively cured by replacing the existing immune system with a healthy one. This is accomplished by taking stem cells from a healthy donor, and transplanting them via injection into the patients body.
Before providing new cells from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, or another suitable source, the existing immune system was traditionally destroyed using an aggressive form of radiotherapy. This was the only way doctors could proceed: until now.
In the new method, the healthy immune system is still established after the unhealthy immune system is destroyed, but a toxin is used to clear out the old system instead of radiotherapy. The stem cells are injected after the initial purging is complete.
The benefits are potentially enormous for humans and could be used to treat MS and rheumatoid arthritis according to scientists at Stanford University School of Medicine in California. However, the procedure has only been utilized on mice thus far.
In the UK, one out of every 5 individuals is afflicted with arthritis. And Multiple Sclerosis affects about 85,000 people as well.
The journal Science reported the research results of Agnieszka Czechowicz, Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya, and Professor Weissman. Stem cells attached to bone marrow, and a new blood and immune system was established when the 3-person team transplanted new, blood-forming stem cells into mice.
So with this method, the new immune system will no longer attack the nerves of the body, when stem cells are taken from a donor and implanted into a person with a good tissue match who has an auto-immune disease such as multiple sclerosis.
In order for the technique to work on humans, researchers must first work out the kinks with more animal testing.
Dr. Laura Bell, the research communications officer at the MS Society, said: “Stem-cell studies are an important avenue of research that hold promise in terms of treatments for MS. This early-stage study is interesting and we look forward to seeing how the work translates into studies in people with MS.”
Professor Edward Tuddenham, of the Royal Free Hospital, London, said: “For those whose blood stem cells contain a severe genetic defect such as that causing sickle cell anaemia, replacing them with normal stem cells would enable restoration of normal blood.”
“Bone marrow transplantation has been used for sickle cell anaemia with good results in children, but in adults it is difficult to get the new stem cells to take in the face of rejection by the resident stem cells and their progeny – the immune system.”
Professor Lars Fugger, of the Medical Research Council Human Immunology Unit, Oxford University, said: “This study has great potential.”